So it’s about time for another set of journal entries. This time it’s my journey through China from the Kyrgyzstan border to make it to Thailand for a family holiday over Christmas. The drills the same as before: edited only where my grammar or spelling didn’t make sense in the real thing and a little bit of context in italics if needed. Enjoy!
Monday 5th December
5am pickup with Camel (the driver I’d arranged in Osh, Kyrgyzstan – not an actual camel) and his bro. Slept in car; woke for beautiful mountains. Problem. 9km before the border. GoPro videos deleted at checkpoint and Camel not allowed entry so got a lift in police car. Kyrgyz exit smooth: 4km walk and 2 hitchhikes to Chinese border. Officials on lunch so started I Am Pilgrim (a thriller by Terry Hayes). Though border and lift with Chinese woman + Tajik man. With Tajik to Kashgar (trading home of the Silk Road) in 2 taxis. Street food and hostel. 10pm arrival local time. IN CHINA!!
The road through the mountains - China is just over the horizon
Tuesday 6th December
Slow wakeup after big travel day in Kashgar. Phone top-up & money exchange first. No 3G. No exchange as Bank of China shut. Round largest bazaar in C Asia. Not great haha. Managed pistachios, banana chips and 2 silk scarves for Alis :) Ate at Chinese street food after moped lift from Adbul (notable that I ate Chinese as Kashgar is populated by the Uighur ethnic minority which is very distinct from the Han Chinese – Uighurs and Xinjiang province are heavily repressed and far more similar to the Stan countries). Back to hostel for bag & to train station. CTrip (Chinese travel booking app for hotels, flights and trains) worked a treat. Big queues and crazy late night journey.
A typical Uighur in Kashgar old town, Xinjiang province
Even Morrisons plastic bags have made it to the Kashgar bazaar
Wednesday 7th December
On & off sleep. Women opposite offered bread, meat and warm water. Worried things would be stolen – police said so. Safe though. Midday arrival in Turpan station – 53km from Turpan! 30 Yuan shared taxi and wandered aimlessly to find hostel for 2 hours. Not right on GPS cords. No wonder! Quiet hostel – taught staff to use coffee machine. Planned next few days attack. Enjoying book :)
Not looking too bad after a 15-hour overnight train journey
Thursday 8th December
On Beijing time so still dark at 8:30. Up to visit Bezelik Thousand Buddha Caves. Taxi for one. Genuinely 1000 Buddha pics in each cave but desecrated by Europeans and Muslims – not much left so wasn’t amazing. Flaming mountains location was cool though. Just in time for high-speed train – 2nd class baby. Comfort and great food. Hostel swap (from original hostel booked). What a city Dunhuang is – can’t wait to explore. Dunhuang is a huge shot of modernity after weeks in the sandy plains and rocky mountains of central Asia. Finished I Am Pilgrim. Loved. Great day.
The Flaming Mountains
Friday 9th December
What a day! Visited the Mogao Buddhist Grotto UNESCO World heritage site of 492 artistically decorated caves. The 2 x 20min vids at the beginning had epic production quality, which set you up perfectly – one was 360 degrees. No pics on inside. Snuck some video. Damn the British for stealing relics. Basically private tour for 2 – met Pete, a Swedish ITU nurse. His Buddhism knowledge was great – had dinner at Green Lotus Vegetarian after – fantastic. Low season so half price at 120 Yuan (~£14) and saw more caves + quieter. 1st time low season is better.
Pete outside one of the many Buddhist Grottos
A cheeky selfie outside the largest cave - Cave 96 houses a Giant Buddha 35.5m tall
Our delightful vegetarian dinner at Green Lotus
Saturday 10th December
Caught train to Jiayugan & the Jiayu Pass. Straight out & met taxi – 200 Yuan to visit 3 main sites of the start of the Great Wall of China in the West. Wall covers 15km with 66 beacons – saw 1st post of wall by Taolai river ruin and climbed Qilian mountain beacon on wall – epic! Jiayu fortress in middle – best preserved in country – a wonderful day :) Still in Gobi desert – dreaming of greenery after central Asia. Saw first functioning Buddhist temple on trip – sweet warmth of incense. Back to station – wrong one for express train. Crazy cab driving to make it to high-speed station – did it! On to Lanzhou.
The Qilian Mountain section of the Great Wall - renovated and in excellent condition
Climbing the wall
Sunset over the Jiayu Fortress
Sunday 11th December
Last night’s hostel an experience – moved from reserved place, as they weren’t allowed ‘white’ foreigners (I’ve since discovered hoteliers in China have to have special licenses to host foreigners, hence the hostel swaps). New place had smoking in rooms, layers of dirt & ash and a bed of board. Guy was masturbating in room. Left early for train to Xi’an. Scenery changed! Epic tracks following river in mountains (some greenery). Arrived in civilisation – I’d crossed Central Asia and the Gobi. Xi’an – modern! Had a Pizza Hut. Went to hostel – incredible. See Tang is incredible. Cheaper, cleaner, and better equipped. Not seen the like since Turkey & at £3.60/night. Getting cash – got the shits. Had to run. SHOWER!
Traffic passing the Xi'an Bell Tower at night
Monday 12th December
What a hostel See Tang Xi’an is. Beaut. Spent the day planning epic journey to Thailand for Christmas. Cycled the whole 14km city walls. Great to begin with, repetitive after an hour or so. Then into Muslim quarter for food. Street market – intoxicatingly crazy. Tried to go to cinema – walked 4km out of city to get there. Phone batt died. Ran through streets to find. Show started. Tried to find another cinema. No luck. Epic negotiations to get back into city. Still can’t get over the epic amounts of Chinese spitting.
Xi'an city walls
Walking through the Muslim Quarter
Tuesday 13th December
Knackered from big day yesterday. Late rise. Off to Emperor Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum & Terracotta army (TA). Left camera at hostel – had to return. Awesome breakfast from BreadTalk. Bus to TA. Epic archaeological find, still so much to excavate, probably a little disappointed, bit stale. Back to city & around Muslim quarter shopping for Xmas presents. Awesome night photos in Grand Mosque. Packed up. Made it to cinema – was about 100m away last night! Kept seeing shops translated as Chinese Welfare Lottery – lol irony.
The main site of the Terracotta Army
Selfie with excavated warriors waiting to be replaced
A Terracotta warrior
The Grand Mosque by night
Wednesday 14th December
What an epic day. Rush, rush, rush, climb, climb, climb. Up at 8 as planned – girl in hostel room said “Why are you up so late if going to Mount Huashan!“ (Huashan is one of 5 sacred peaks in China) Was I late up?! Rush to train station, dropped off rucksack and got cash. Started up mountain – gentle incline. Scaled hidden 90-degree cliff face stairs to nuns’ monastery – was scared. Thereafter, back on the main route, up endless steps to north peak @ 1614m. What a view. Kept on to the east peak. Shitting it that no time to descend for 16 hour train to Chengdu. 3hr 6km climb to North peak, 1.5hr 3km climb to East peak, 2hr 9km descent. Had the sun setting when I got to East peak. Huashan is incredible – wish I could have stayed. Down the mountain, past the temples and a slight jog. Waking was too sore – jog easier!! Could have got cable car – needed the exercise. Scooter to train station. High-speed to Xi’an. Stung by unlicensed cab driver – made train – phew!
Not many chose to walk up the mountain over the cable car but I did make a few friends
The 'staircase' to the hidden Nun's monastery
The Thousand-Foot pass - a set of stairs of unimaginable steepness to a tiny defensible pass holding the entrance to Mount Huashan
At the summit of East Peak - a sweaty day's work
Thursday 15th December
12 hour sleep! Gotta love a sleeper train, even on 3 high top bunk. Read book & ate hot beef noodle pot like locals. Arrival (in Chengdu) – cab to beaut modern hostel. Sorted stuff and washed clothes. Can’t recommend Wutongli more – 29 Yuan/night (~£3.40). Walked through city to burn off calories to earn a burger @ BK – had two. Hostel for a chill. Dodgy karaoke in bar. Free beer offered by owner – declined sober til Christmas. Finished City of Thieves (fictional story of wartime Leningrad by David Benioff). Couldn’t sleep until gone 4:30. Weird insomnia.
Settling down on my first sleeper train to Chengdu
Friday 16th December
Alarm didn’t go off as phone out of battery. Planned 6:30 rise to get the jump on pandas @ Chengdu Research Base. There by 10. Awesome – loved the place. Well treated & maintained. Started with 6, raised 146 now! Sacked off Leshan & Great Buddha to enjoy Chengdu city. Good Choice. All sorts of street food at tourist trap of Jinli Ancient Street – must visit though – so aesthetically pleasing. Beaut walk on river. Female dancers. Men card playing. Monks with caged songbirds. Tortoises/terrapins. Fishermen. Leaves turning & falling here – back to Autumn. Blog in PM. Peking duck at Lian Hua Fang. Reasonable but no better than UK. Pumpkin, shredded beef, goose liver ball also.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding - a catchy title
I timed it well for morning feeding time
Jinli Ancient Street - a must visit taste of old (in a classic Chinese modern over-renovated style ;)
Monks with caged songbirds overlooking the river through Chengdu
Finally found a Chinese dragon
Saturday 17th December
Wrote blog in morning while waiting for train. Set off for the big 4/5-day journey to Bangkok. 13:00 train – sleeper for 18.5 hours. Lovely people in shared berth area. Leila (potato [nickname]) had just completed final English degree exam, Taoist couple, old lady and hip lad. Chatted with Leila as translator. Top of 3 bunks again – so high, not so much head space. Still so sore from Huashan. Really couldn’t be arsed to write more but I did :)
Chengdu train station selfie
Potato and Toby
Sunday 18th December
Now for the difficult bit – find transport from Kunming to Laos. New friends on train weren’t sure I’d be able to do it. Off train at half 7. Round corner to bus station. 71 bus to south bus terminal & found overnight sleeper bus to Laos at 6pm – easy! Checked bag & headed to town on 20 min bus. Went to flower and bird market – so many potential pets. Saw The Great Wall at cinema as last day in China – OK, bit surreal, looked great, thin plot. 2.5 hours to get to bus so ate, got metro to bus station and tried to find bus 71. Not running! Got bus 153 and the problems began. Slow stopper local bus & heavy traffic. Took 1.5 hours to bus station. Arrived at 6:25 – fook! Clutching a bag of KFC and my hopes. Hadn’t left! Set off at 6:46pm. Amazing bus: double bed – kind of!
My berth on the sleeper bus
Monday 19th December
Early morning spent at Laos/China border. Breezed through: $35 for Laos visa. Only needed for 2/3 days haha. Met David – Chinese ceramics entrepreneur – discussed selling his great products in UK. Bus journey continued. Epic scenery in Laos. Success with beaut lunch & SIM card registration. Still on bus. Dinner near Luang Prabang at Chinese coach stop. Lots of Chinese in Laos. Fast & Furious films on bus TV. Great to have freedom of internet again (after the Great Chinese Firewall where services like Google, Facebook are banned). On & off sleep – 1 whole day on a bus! Got a WeChat (Chinese social media) group with Chinese bus friends – lovely dinner shared.
Early morning trains
Tuesday 20th December
4:48am arrival – 34 hours on bus. What a journey. Decided to head straight for Thai border. Potential 7am train. Tuk tuk broke down 3 times on way. Needed Thai Baht – couldn’t exchange! Met Valentin (Vanuatu/French tattoo artist) waiting for 6am border open. Epic rush to make train – did it with only minor taxi drama across Friendship Bridge (which crosses the Mekong river). Valentin paid for ticket & all food/drink – legend. I’m getting the beers in Bangkok. 10-hour train was long and hot – worst part of 63 hours on public transport over the 4 days. Arrival in BKK, I was knackered, headached and still sore! Amazing hostel (Cubic) with 1 bed left. Gave me water on arrival. Shower rescued me. I’ve arrived!!! Can’t wait to see family and Alis. Saw Rogue One by chance as walking by cinema & it was starting. I’ve seen tourists again – weird.
The baking train with Valentin
The train through Thailand
Wednesday 21st December
Sweet little breakfast trying to solve Rubix cube – I didn’t haha. Wearing shorts and T-shirt – this is a treat! All day in hostel café – 4 smoothies, 3 toasties, 2 coffees with ready salted crisps. So western. Trying to get up to date before Xmas. Not sure of Valentin’s invite. Went to tattoo shop (happy to convince myself) – dropped off beer & he wasn’t there! Went to Khao San road (famous backpacker drinking street in Bangkok) – twas cool to be there again. Same same but different (than 8 years ago when I visited last). Drinks in reggae bar. Tuk tuk to Ratchaprapop.
Thursday 22nd December
Slept in movie room as no beds in hostel – not up for moving. OK – woke up feeling awful, real bad. Body sores and headaches. Not before Christmas :( Managed to Khao San to get 25+ badges to sew on bag. Struggled with blog all afternoon. Progress late on. Met Andy having a drink in hostel sheltered balcony over water – he’d been to a cool Thai wedding. Bed early!
Friday 23rd December
Sweaty bed! They’re coming :) Packed, showered and left. Met them at airport! Alis out 1st, Mum and Dad 2nd. So cool to have them here. Just smiling & normal. No weirdness. Introduced Alis. Cab to Jomtien. Beaut villa – mum guessed which one. Played Box (family card game much like sevens with added twists), drank beer & ordered food in. Alis in my arms again :)
China was a wonderful country to visit. Many other travellers I’ve met said I’d either love it or hate it; either way there’d be a culture shock. Such comments prepared me well. I’m in the love it camp for sure. It’s definitely different but I think coming from Central Asia meant that it felt like a world I was far more accustomed to once I’d crossed the Gobi desert. Some of the things I did there are the best I’ve done on my travels so far. And while the epic journey down to Thailand was long, the rewards at the end were worth every moment.
So that’s it. All done up to Christmas Eve eve. I might not write about our lovely family holiday or New Year’s Eve on Koh Samet – we will see.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from sequel.world :)
Monday 5th December – Kashgar Pamir Youth Hostel, Kashgar, Xinjiang, China
Tuesday 6th December – Overnight train to Turpan, Xinjiang, China
Wednesday 7th December – Turpan Whitecamel Youth Hostel, Turpan, China
Thursday 8th December – Moved from Dunhuang Warm Home Inn, Dunhuang, Gansu, China to unknown hostel
Friday 9th December – Moved from Dunhuang Warm Home Inn, Dunhuang, Gansu, China to unknown hostel
Saturday 10th December – Moved from Hippo Park Youth Hostel, Lanzhou, Gansu, China to unknown hostel of disrepute
Sunday 11th December – See Tang Hostel, Xi’an, China
Monday 12th December – See Tang Hostel, Xi’an, China
Tuesday 13th December – See Tang Hostel, Xi’an, China
Wednesday 14th December – Overnight sleeper train to Chengdu, China
Thursday 15th December – Wutongli Hostel, Chengdu, China
Friday 16th December – Wutongli Hostel, Chengdu, China
Saturday 17th December – Overnight sleeper train to Kunming, China
Sunday 18th December – Overnight sleeper bus to Vientiane, Laos
Monday 19th December – Overnight sleeper bus to Vientiane, Laos
Tuesday 20th December – Cubic Hostel, Bangkok, Thailand
Wednesday 21st December – Cubic Hostel, Bangkok, Thailand
Thursday 22nd December – Cubic Hostel, Bangkok, Thailand
Friday 23rd December – VIP Villas Green Residences, Jomtien, Pattaya, Thailand